hands of a person with tattoo hanging from steel bars

Notes on Oppression and Violence, by Aletícia Tijerina

“Because I am Brown, I am oppressed.” When I speak this, I know it is not enough. The knowledge of racism is not enough. Because if I am still bound by my own self-hatred, I am the oppressor onto myself.

I ask myself, “How does a Brown sister, a Black sister, free herself?” Knowing I am oppressed, I must also know that I participate in this oppression. I must realize that I and all my darker sisters take the instruments of oppression and use them on ourselves. Our tools come in many forms.

We take from the oppressor the instrument of hatred and sharpen it on our bodies and souls. The internalization of “spic” and“nigger” begins at birth. Only consciousness must follow—or death.

Migrant Farm Labor Camp No. 109, Ohio, August 17, 1956:

The poor home of a migrant farm worker’s family was invaded today by police to rip the children from the groins of the Mexican mother. The Native American father had attempted to kill his three-year-old daughter. The incident was caused by severe economical distress and obvious hunger. The daughter mas placed in an orphanage.

The very roots of my radicalism began in the city streets.

Where was the point of departure from myself what time was it

What did the feeling look like how did it taste

Why did I swallow it?

Street culture and behavior is a way of surviving in industrial North America. It creates a passionate and violent language.

When I would whisper to a comadre, “I love you,” or yell “ I hate you” to an enemy, the passion of the language which exploded inside me sprang from the same source. I had learned that both love and hate are potentially violent. When I dared to love someone, he or she shared with me a basic understanding that through our hating we might survive. If we could hate enough and fight back enough we might be jailed less or knifed less or raped less often. As I grew older, I built upon the notion that hatred must seek revenge. I began responding to the harsh reality that I was worthless in society by broadening my violent actions. And in an odd way, I sought justice.

My responses were mixed with a pre-consciousness. A form of resistance.

I was incarcerated when I was sixteen on four felony charges and three misdemeanors. A plea bargain sent me to an experimental maximum security institution in Ohio instead of the Women’s prison. When I stole the jail transfer papers on me and others off the prison psychologist’s desk, I learned many of us had been sent here because we had high IQs. And, about me, the papers read “She is considered dangerous to society and herself.” Dangerous to society…

Dangerous to tell the violence I am. Dangerous to release the anger I am. Dangerous to write the truth of the source of oppression. Dangerous to name it—name the person, the myth and the props. Dangerous to be who I am. Dangerous to the social make-up of this country. Dangerous to write it. Dangerous to myself.

A poem I wrote in 1970 reads:

i stepped out

to meet the Cold

only the Cold warmed me feeling winter’s naked intent

the last Cold needle piercing my arm feeling white man’s consent

the lasting supply of bitter Crystals thru the dead of Snow.

i stepped out

to meet the Cold

only the Cold warmed my bleeding to escape

I was a junkie. Anglos have been consenting to us darkies shootin’ hard drugs since the beginning of their colonization. But the white man didn’t actually push the spike into my veins. I did. This act is clearly the embodiment of self-hatred. Hatred which goes back a long time. Goes back to the three-year-old girl terrorized by the knife of her father—to the White welfare woman whispering in my ears, “Your momma is a whore, you will grow up to be a no-good whore. . . .” Individual incidents in our lives—in our collective history—we North Americans—colonized and exploiter alike. Yet, it is our collective wills which have created the need for killer drugs. Violent responses in any form they take are accomplices to the wills which have created the need. The availability of drugs is not the problem or the dealer down on 122nd Street. They are only players in a far more complex value system of worth which nurtures self-hatred. Self-hatred which is directing and encouraging people to believe suicide is an option—as is alcohol or drug addiction or the reckless homicide on the highways.

We take from the oppressor the instruments of hatred and sharpen them on our bodies and our souls.

For us, because we were misfits—because we were dangerous, the authorities in control of our lives decided to use us as experimental guinea pigs—to monitor our brain waves—test out new drugs—experiment on how to control us, the very dangerous in society—how to mess with our minds.

We were all imprisoned for various crimes against the State: impersonating men; escaping abusive homes; setting fires; taking drugs; robbery ’cause we were hungry; plotting to overthrow the government. Most of our so-called “crimes” against the State were acts of resistance or rebellion against an oppressive family, school, society; for many of us, our cultural identity had been battered and abused since birth.

I was ward of the State from the ages of ten to twenty-one. My adopted mother had given up legal custody of me because of her mental break-downs.

It was after reading the Communist Manifesto,’ when I was thirteen, that I began to reason that the State had become the parent in my life. And it had been the State which had denied me my real mother, because she was brown and poor and undocumented. I understood too, that the hatred I possessed against the State had been nurtured in this denial. My hatred was more intense than the heat of soldering steel. My reign of revenge followed—robbery—assault on a policeman—possession of narcotics—crossing state lines with narcotics—documents indicating the plot to overthrow the government. The plot to overthrow my parents.

At the maximum security institution all of us darker sisters with curly, kinky, or otherwise offensive hair, had to straighten it to make it more acceptable to our white jailers. In rebellion to this forced cultural exploitation, I purposely jumped another inmate in the straightening room hair shop—breaking her nose and she laying a hot iron across my cheek. I was thrown into solitary confinement for two weeks. Yet, my purpose had been accomplished. Never again did the wardens lead me down the hallway to the hair shop , for fear I would start trouble again.

A radical is born with the will to survive and the strength to make trouble.

Yet, my hatred was consuming me. For all the talk of hatred against the oppressor, true liberation must begin with the liberation of one’s self from oneself.

In the basement of the prison was a roller skating rink that a couple of cell groups would use once a week. I liked going there, to watch the other girls round the rink, maybe seeing a good-looking one and making eye contact.

Racial tension in the prison was very high, even more so than on the streets. For there, we could not choose our peers, or escape our enemies. Descending into the cement basement of the prison, I accidentally bumped into a blue-eyed, brown haired white girl. It took only one half second for me to explode into hatred against her skin. I wanted to strike out at her, but the crowd pushed her forward and out of reach too fast. I hated her like fear loves weakness. Seating myself on the bench, I waited for her to round the floor. Suddenly, everything in the room faded. The music stopped, the sounds of skates weakened then stopped, people disappeared. I was facing a large emptiness alone. I blacked out, yet, while in this void, I heard a voice inside of me say, “See, when you hate so much you are blind to beauty and love can’t find you.” After hearing these words, the room reappeared, the music began again. I did not move for a long time. I didn’t move until I had vowed to myself to cease my hating and let love find me.

I had chosen to cross over, to allow the transcendence of hatred into the opposite, love. A meeting point inside of me let me see clearly there are two roads: one of hatred and one of love. It was still for me to act upon this knowledge to perform human acts which would build upon this vision of love.

When Martin Luther King Jr. said he had a dream—a vision of human love—he knew in the deep well of hatred is love. Love which knows the flesh of every human being is alive with feelings. Still, human love is a vision of love for all of us. Each moment we recall the vision of love we commit an act of resistance against the oppressor.

From Compañeras: Latina Lesbians


1. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “The Manifesto of the Communist Party,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.,1972), 33l—362.

This essay has been republished with permission from Aletícia “Kyle” Silverwood Tijerina. J.T. the L.A. Storyteller first quoted its words in a book review of Gloria Anzaldúa’s Making Face, Making Soul (1990), but the essay first appeared in Compañeras: Latina Lesbians (An Anthology), which was published in 1987 and revised in 2004.

An excerpt from Tijerina’s biography at Healing Arrows notes that: “Aleticia ‘Kyle’ Silverwood Tijerina co-founded Healing Arrows for Indigenous Social Justice and Wellness to address Indigenous human rights abuses and Treaty rights over water and lands. Kyle is a descendant of the Nassawaketon band of Odawa. A Native nationalist, she is a longtime activist and Sun Dancer at Big Mountain, Navajo Nation, where she supported the Diné people facing relocation off their traditional lands for over ten years. A professor of Native politics, Kyle taught American Indian politics.”


Get your haircut at the future of Santa Monica Blvd

This article is being published concurrently with the latest for the Making a Neighborhood Newsletter. Please consider becoming a paid subscriber today to get more stories like it, plus work from our colleagues Samanta Helou Hernandez and Ali Rachel Pearl.

I’ve noted before that Santa Monica boulevard in East Hollywood is special to yours truly for a few reasons, including because alongside Vermont avenue it forms the nexus where my mom first opened her newsstand more than 20 years ago.

Virgil avenue and Santa Monica boulevard is also where many of my old friends and I fed ourselves after school, when a few dollars at the 7-eleven there went a long way to sustain our teenage diets of junk food and syrup.

At 4591 Santa Monica Blvd one also finds the Cahuenga Public Library. Admittedly, during my teens I wasn’t always there for the books, but I would still pick up my first copy of Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X at the branch; now, a copy of Making Our Neighborhood: Redlining, Gentrification and Housing also adorns Cahuenga’s shelves for a new generation of readers.

Most recently, the 14.4 mile-long stretch of L.A. asphalt originating from the west side at Ocean Avenue has made its way into my routine yet again–or I’ve made my way onto it–as near the intersection of Santa Monica boulevard and Edgemont street yet another side of East Hollywood has “taken me in.”

First opened in 2019, Barbershop Lopez is the host and mainstay of at least five barbers from in and around the neighborhood; a few steps down memory lane with one of them, however, Oscar Lopez himself, reveals the shop’s history on the block goes quite a ways farther back. 

A millennial who grew up in Silver Lake during the 1990s, Oscar first learned to cut hair from his mentor in 2011 while working at a shelter in downtown L.A.’s Skid Row area. He earned his barber’s license in 2015, and three years later, began leasing a small shop with his colleague Mike the Barber at 4561 Santa Monica boulevard. 

That shop was–you guessed it–just a couple steps away from Cahuenga public library, and on hearing Oscar tell it, I recount to him how I’d walk past his and Mike’s humble setup countless times and glance in to see perhaps one or two customers at a time.

“But we made it work for three!” he replies with gusto.

Oscar Lopez and Rik Martino, also colloquially known around the neighborhood as “Bird-Man,” in 2018. Photo provided by Lopez.

Shortly after starting up near Madison avenue, however, the building’s owners informed Oscar that there were plans to install some apartment units either adjacent to or on top of the shop soon. Since the lease was monthly, he and Mike knew it was time to find another location. Time and fate were on their side. 

A sudden and massive fire in early 2015 at the 4800 block of Santa Monica Blvd and Edgemont street led the owners of the strip there to do some remodeling. In only two years, they transformed a retro style Psychic Reader’s studio into the spacious setup that would become Barber Shop Lopez. Another hair salon would precede Oscar and Mike, however, and when their search revealed that relocating to Hollywood itself was too expensive, they reached a limbo. But in early 2019, the salon left, literally opening the doors for their duo.

4854 Santa Monica Blvd in 2014. Photo provided by Google.
4854A Santa Monica Blvd in 2022. Photo provided by Google.

Oscar and Mike gladly set up shop on the newly renovated strip in April 2019. Yet favorable timing and fate weren’t without some irony. After all, less than a year before their new setup farther west on Santa Monica Blvd came the pandemic.

“It wasn’t easy,” Mike recounted to me en Español during a last-minute appointment I made with him at the shop.

“Pero no nos quedó más que seguir trabajando.”

They kept working, taking their clients’ appointments outside their apartments when they could–with masks on, of course–and right outside on the boulevard itself when necessary. It also helped that the shop’s owners were supportive of their team’s tenacity.

Pandemic or not, the shop went on. Photo provided by Lopez.

“They took care of us,” Oscar noted to me over the phone.

The owners’ good will during the pandemic, coupled with the shop’s steady rise in popularity, led Oscar and Mike to sign a new five-year lease for the space recently. As the last five years for areas as close as Virgil avenue saw seismic shifts for business, foot traffic and clientele, then, Barbershop Lopez persisted. Now, their success is another pushing against the trend for many a local.

Walking into the shop recently, the scent of shaving cream filled the air. On greeting Erick, who’s taken care of my fade and trim roughly every three weeks over the last year (except on Tuesdays), I take my seat on the comfy barber chair in front of him, feeling instant reprieve from the traffic-like-clockwork outside. Above me, an assortment of classic and cult-favorite personalities meets my eyes, from a portrait of “Iron” Mike Tyson lording over his opponent, to small frames of hip hop legends like 2Pac, Pharrell, and more. Most of the art was gifted to Oscar and Mike by their friends.

Oscar Lopez, in business professionally since 2015. Photo provided by Lopez.

Shortly after Erick casts a robe over my neck for the thirty minute session, more personalities walk in, including moms and pops sliding into the waiting seats on behalf of their mijos and mijas, as well as more recently arrived folks from out of state whose lingo distinguishes them.

But speaking with the Lopez team reveals it’s not lost on any of them how their dynamic clientele is indicative of a larger shake-up in Los Angeles over so many seasons. It’s just that they’ve been some of those who’ve found a way to work right through the middle of it all, probably attributable to their razor-sharp barber’s eyes.

“This is our neighborhood, and it’s true that it’s changing, but we do still have locals here,” Oscar notes to me matter-of-factly.

“That’s why I wanted to come back and open up a business right here.”

Barbershop Lopez is open 7 days a week from 9 AM – 7 PM, and I personally get my haircut with Erick for $45. “Kids” get a $10 discount with Erick for fades, tapers, and scissor cuts, and word on the street is that Oscar’s a pretty damn good barber himself, though there’s just one way to find out. You can also follow the shop via their Ig: @barbershoplopez90029.


Here is to Seven More in Los Angeles with J.T. 🤞🏾🤞🏾🤞🏾

On this special anniversary day, yours truly marvels at how far JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller has come, as well as at how far there still is to go.

When I first brought the site into existence seven years ago, I set out to achieve great things with the unique perspective that I’ve constantly sought to bring to the communities I’ve been a part of. But over the last year especially, as the world shifted to meet the challenges of an unpredictable pandemic, ‘JMB TMS’ showed up to serve Los Angeles by writing, photographing, and organizing for our neighborhoods.

The site served as a basis for people all around the world to learn about inequity in Los Angeles, while “behind the scenes,” along with fellow L.A. Storytellers, our organizing provided communities with an immersive experience learning about the urban environments so many of us have called home for generations.

In turn, when readers consider Redlining, Gentrification and Housing in East Hollywoodthe magazine of which is soon to be digitized on the site–the fact of the matter is that it took more than some months or even a few years to be ready for. In actuality, the contributions yours truly made to this extraordinary effort took at least seven years of ‘background’ through the throes of this city and then some.

So let this be a consideration for any aspiring young storyteller in Los Angeles: When you take an idea based strictly in your mind, and give it a body, and then a mechanism, you give it a life of its own, hence JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller.

Now, it’s time to remake even more of ‘J.T.’ to give Los Angeles only larger scales of perspective from the city’s most passionate hearts and minds. I am grateful for the opportunity to be of such support.

This is JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller.